Today let’s start off by taking a closer look at how Tyranids in general have performed in fifth edition for competitive play.
The new codex ushered in a host of new creatures such as the Doom of Malan’tai, Trygons, Mawlocs and the Tervigon just to name a few. Long standing units that have taken a traditional role in Tyranid armies such as the Carnifex suddenly took a back seat to these new units. Unfortunately this new era of monstrous creatures and other monstrosities did not bring about the same level of competitive play that could exceed or even match earlier codices.
It is general knowledge that Tyranids are currently considered non competitive for many reasons. No Tyranid army I know of has won a major event since the release of the fifth edition codex. Sure if you are avid Tyranid player you know that you can design a competitive army but the codex does not matchup well versus the three top tiered armies and in general the book could have been much better written. The FAQ did not help either.
Hitting your head against a brick wall is an exercise in futility—sure it feels good when you stop but knowing its a brick wall you have to ask yourself why are you repeating something that is known to fail. I am open to constructive advice how to improve my army but I also have no desire to replicate what has already been done when we know it doesn’t have what it takes to meet the goals to beat the top tier. I have taken up Tyranids as a self challenge to develop a competitive army that can reach the top tables at a major event. I may fail but I will give it my best effort. You don’t see a lot of veteran players taking Tyranids to major events and for good reason but I have to just see for myself if I can do better. Even if I should fail I will know that at least I tried and given it my best shot.
Typical Army List Builds
Let’s take a look at what we have typically seen fielded for Tyranid armies in fifth edition. Here is one such abbreviated list:
Hive Tyrant w. 2-3x Tyrant Guard (HQ)
3x 3x Hive Guard (Elite)
2x Termagant broods (Troop)
2x Tervigon (Troop)
2x Tyrannofex (Heavy Support)
The core strengths of this sample list is good synapse coverage across the board coupled with the ability to pop light armor (Hive Guard) and it has some ranged shooting to deal with heavy armor (Tyrannofex). The army also has and can produce an ample number of scoring units to hold objectives. One obvious weakness of the list above is that it gives up lots and lots of easy killpoints. Anther major weakness of such a list is that is does not perform well versus top tier armies such as Imperial Guard, Grey Knights and Space Wolves for obvious reasons. A list such as this one was very popular following the initial release of the new Tyranid codex and was designed to handle the heavily mechanized meta we see so prevalent in fifth edition.
Sure the Tervigon is still very popular and for good reason but it is also vulnerable. It’s low initiative is a major problem versus the Space Wolves’ psychic power Jaws of the World Wolf as well as other game mechanics that force removal of said unit due to failing an initiative test such as the Grey Knight psychic power Warp Rift. The Tyrannofex is expensive (equivalent to Land Raider in cost) for what you get – two BS3 S10 shots at long range plus it must bypass the plethora of cover saves abundant in fifth edition.
I have seen some variations of the list presented above as well as some alternatives. Here is one well proven slightly altered list:
Swarmlord w. 1x Tyrant Guard (HQ)
3x Hive Guard (Elite)
2x Hive Guard (Elite)
Ymgarl Genestealers (Elite)
15x Genestealers (Troop)
8x Genestealers (Troop)
Gargoyles (Fast Attack)
Tyrannofex (Heavy Support)
There are many similar elements between the two lists—this one though is a hybrid list as the Genestealers can outflank and the Ymgarl Genestealers start the game dormant on the table. Again there is a Hive Tyrant with Tyrant Guard… the Tyrant Guard is included to provide the ability to provide a cover save for the Swarmlord. The Swarmlord is the best choice for a walking Hive Tyrant—of course you’re paying for all the awesome abilities the Swarmlord brings to the army including the ability to outflank one Troop choice (i.e., Tervigon or termagants). There are Hive Guard and one Tyrannofex to handle armor at range. Gargoyles are another popular unit and provide mobile cover to other units. The Tervigon and Termagants as noted above provide an ample number of scoring units.
My critics most often point directly to these types of list when offering suggestions how I can improve my own list. At the end of the day though the results are the same—no major wins for Tyranids in fifth edition at any big events and I don’t believe that is going to change while fifth edition is still in effect.
An Alternative Approach
If you follow my blog you know that I advocate the use of a fully reserved Tyranid army to address the short comings of typical Tyranid armies such as the two I have listed above. Here is my abbreviated army list for reference:
Hive Tyrant – wings & Hive Commander (HQ)
Tyranid Prime (HQ)
Zoanthropes – mycetic spore (Elite)
Doom of Malan’tai – mycetic spore (Elite)
Ymgarl genestealers (Elite)
Warriors – mycetic spore (Troop)
Termagants – mycetic spore (Troop)
Genestealers w. Broodlord (Troop)
Trygon Prime (Heavy Support)
I used to run two Trygons and just recently dropped one to include the Tyrant based upon feedback I’ve received online. The Tyranid Prime is attached to the Hormagaunt brood and together they come in from reserve along my long table edge. This choice invariably always draws major criticism—Tyranid pundits are upset that I give up fleet and bounding leap for the Hormagants since I attach the Alpha Warrior. What they fail to realize is that the Hormagaunts provide a cheap source of ablative wounds for the Prime which allows me to take advantage of fielding an Independent character as an HQ. I always have the option though to detach the Prime from the gaunts once they have arrived from reserve if I were to need the better rate of mobility for the gaunts but to be honest I have never once come upon this situation. Their main purpose is to hold one objective and provide a final zone of synaspe for broken units that are falling back and they do this very well.
My list has lots of major threats that can’t be ignored and forces my opponent to react. The Zoanthropes are my ranged answer to the occassional Land Raider while the Termagaunts are there to deal with heavy weapons teams such as Long Fangs. I readily admit the Zoies have some issues such as getting past an opponent’s psychic defense but just their presence alone is often enough. Typically versus a LandRaider you can neutralize its threat simply by immobilizing it since they are most often transporting a dedicated melee unit such as assault Terminators.
My army works on the strategic principles of Null Deployment (ND) which I learned from Fritz over on his blog Fritz 40k (refer to the blog list if you’re interested). One of the basic principles of ND is you can place the bulk of your army where you need it the most and avoid deathstar units like Draigo and his Paladins. Fielding a Tyrant with Hive Commander means that the bulk of your army should arrive from reserve during the second turn. You can saturate an area of the table and quickly overpower a portion of your opponent’s army focusing on destroying their troops or you can spread out and force the enemy to come towards you if you have properly placed your objectives. Note that roughly 75 percent of your army should arrive during the second turn if you field a Tyrant with the Hive Commander option since they come in on a 3+ versus 4+ during your second turn. Many of the units in my army are fast due to fleet so I can quickly redeploy much of my army as the game progresses following the second turn. Reserving your army also denies your opponent one turn of shooting which can be critical. I also have the option to infiltrate the Genestealer brood.
As I mentioned above a very important aspect of ND is where you place the objectives… You should place your objectives so that they are spread far apart—small elite armies like Draigowing will then struggle to hold them. Tyranid armies in general tend to have many units (you should have 4-5 troops) so they have an inherent advantage winning objective based missions. This is the same strategy I would use versus Imperial Guard—force them to spread their scoring units so they can’t support each other. Imperial Guard armies heavily rely upon their Chimeras to protect their scoring units so you want to prioritize targeting their transports… Focus on killing their troops as soon as possible. I like to place one Seize Ground objective marker close to either side of the table so my Genestealers can outflank and assault enemy units camped there. You want an objective on each side of the table because there is a one third chance an outflanking unit will arrive on the wrong side—placing an objective marker on both sides means there is no wrong side but it’s important to note that typically there is one side you’d prefer for your outflanking unit to arrive (for whatever reason).
The following text diagram serves as a simple illustration to show how I often layer my army.
_____________Prime & Hormagaunts
* denotes unit is mounted in mycetic spore
_ denotes unit deep strikes onto table
– denotes unit outflanks
The diagram does not show the Zoanthropes and the Doom of Malantai as their individual placement is typically independent of the other units. The Hive Tyrant can be inserted at any level following the Trygon.
An Inherent Disadvantage of the Fully Reserved Tyranid Army
The major weakness of my army list is that the Mycetic Spores give up very easy kill points—one rocket and a Spore is toast. The good news is a lot of tournaments are now using a format that features the three objectives (Seize Ground, Capture & Control and Kill Points) such that they are equally weighted rather than tiered primary, secondary and tertiary (P/S/T) objectives. Whoever takes the most victory conditions wins the game. I’ve also noticed that kill points are not often chosen as a primary objective at other events such as those that use the P/S/T format. This relatively new type of format allows you to focus on winning by holding the most objective markers and you can effectively ignore kill points. The American Team Championship (ATC) uses this format and it’s gaining popularity across the country. There is a large GT in California (Bay Area Open) to be held soon that will also use the W-L format with equally weighted objectives. I used this format at BeakyCon last year and it was well received by everyone who attended.
If on the other hand you know ahead of time that an event you’re considering attending will feature two out of five missions with kill points as the primary objective then you could be in store for a long hard weekend—so always keep that in mind! You typically have to place your spores directly in harm’s way to get the most out of the units embarked in them. Tyranids are quite capable of killing lots of enemy units but a deficit of 3-4 kill points is very hard to overtake.
Ranking the Fully Reserved Tyranid Army
Would I rank a fully reserved Tyranid army as top tier beside IG, GK and SW? The short answer is no… The long answer takes a bit more time to fully address and I think a better question is can such an army consistently beat the top tier? The long answer is yes but it will require near perfect play and some degree of luck. In regards to luck I think anyone who has won a major event and is honest will tell you that they had their fair share of good luck when they needed it—be it good matchups, missions that suited their armies and plenty of hot dice rolls.
Most often I think it is the general and not the army that wins a major event and the top players eventually learn how to exploit popular Internet meta lists. We can just stick with the top tiered armies or we can challenge ourselves and diversify. I like to build exotic lists that are unique and can exploit the meta. I have done very well in the past with armies such as the 13th Company and Deathwing (prior to the recent inclusion of the 3++ stormshield). For me it’s more thrilling to do something new and succeed rather than follow others along the well trodden path… Especially when we know ahead of time that it doesn’t work. Maybe I would have done better over the course of the many national events I’ve attended if I had taken Internet meta lists but that’s not what I’m about at the end of the day.
When I first started to discuss Draigowing on the Internet it was generally dismissed as a weak low model count army then suddenly everything changed overnight when Blackmoor took second place at the NOVA last summer. That is just how fickle is the Internet.
A fully reserved Tyranid army built right can indeed exploit the current Internet meta lists. No it’s not easy but it can be done. All my comments on my current army are based upon actual games and experience—it’s not theory hammer and I’d like to think there are some (maybe only a few) who can appreciate that aspect—these types are my primary target audience.
Have at it! Can the Nids in the hands of a top player really beat all comers?